Michael Obafemi caps stylish Ireland’s emphatic win over dour Scotland | Nations League

Crisis, what crisis? Stephen Kenny responded to suggestions his job as the Republic of Ireland manager may be under threat by presiding over a demolition job on Scotland. Ireland entered this Nations League tie with a record of two wins in 17 competitive games under Kenny. They left it with hope of a brighter future fully restored. Kenny’s glory was emphatic in style.

“We went into this game having had real setbacks,” said Kenny. “Any sort of victory over Scotland is a big one. But it wasn’t perfect. We are still a work in progress.”

As for Scotland? What a horror show this quickly became for Steve Clarke. Gibraltar were the last team to concede three or more goals in Dublin. Gibraltar were the last team to lose a competitive game here; three years ago. The scale of embarrassment for the Scots could and should have been far worse. Considering the importance of the Nations League to this team – it was their route towards Euro 2020 – that the Scots were outfought and outthought was a genuine head-scratcher. Scotland went through the motions in a way which bore ominous similarity to a 4-0 tousing in Wales during the dying embers of the Berti Vogts regime.

Clarke admitted his players “didn’t cope” with the “front foot” approach of Ireland and were “at a loss” to explain why. He added: “We played poorly. This group have players have been fantastic for me and fantastic for their country. I’m not going to criticise this group.”

The whiff of negativity had returned to the Irish scene after the 1-0 loss in Armenia last weekend. Kenny has cause to point to scant resources at his disposal but results such as that one fall firmly into the ‘unacceptable’ category.

Scotland’s situation looked nowhere near as grim. Nonetheless, Ukraine’s World Cup playoff success in Glasgow continues to sting. The sense that Clarke and his players believe they were harshly criticised for their showing in that match is a live one. Whether that is a fair perception or not, a strong performance was needed by the Scots here in order to recapture some hearts and minds.

Such a dismal Scottish start in Dublin was therefore hard to fathom. Bluntness in attack was demonstrated by John McGinn – twice – after blunders in the home defence. The Aston Villa midfielder shot tamely into the hands of Caoimhin Kelleher before aiming an effort wide of the goalkeeper’s right-hand post. On both occasions, McGinn should have done far better.

Alan Browne scores Ireland’s first goal against Scotland.
Alan Browne scores Ireland’s first goal against Scotland. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/INPHO/Shutterstock

Ireland sensed and capitalised upon Scotland’s vulnerability. In fact, this first half was comfortably the worst of Clarke’s tenure. Scott McKenna’s clearing header denied Michael Obafemi a certain goal on his maiden international start. Irish celebration was placed on hold only for seconds. From the resultant James McClean corner, Shane Duffy nodded back across goal for Alan Browne to bundle home. Scotland’s generosity from the set-play was quite something.

The Aviva Stadium roared with approval once more as Troy Parrott doubled the hosts’ lead. Obafemi was the creator, with a deft chip as he caught out Jack Hendry and Tony Ralston in the Scotland defence. Parrott’s header was enough to beat Craig Gordon, who had come racing out from his goal.

Clarke’s half-time response was to introduce Billy Gilmour in place of Hendry, who had endured a particularly torrid 45 minutes. Yet by shuffling Scott McTominay into Hendry’s position in the back three, Scotland were retaining a system that had failed them. Critics of the Scotland manager, never slow to point out his supposed lack of flexibility, soon had added fuel.

Obafemi lashed high beyond Gordon from 25 yards, which marked a wonderful moment for the Swansea City forward. Scotland’s midfielders had tip-toed around the ball before it landed at Obafemi’s feet, which rather summed up their pitiful lack of conviction all evening. Ireland were in dreamland.

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Scotland survived a VAR check as Ireland chased a fourth. Scott Hogan’s header did look to have crossed the line before Grant Hanley hooked clear but Obafemi’s replacement – the 21-year-old had limped off with a groin problem – may have been offside from McClean’s latest menacing cross. By this point Clarke had withdrawn McGinn, who was awful, Che Adams, who was equally so, and Ryan Christie, whose only contribution had been to pick up a yellow card.

The only cause for Irish concern over the game’s closing stages was that they were living in unusual territory. Amazingly – not least given the hospitality on offer in this fine city – a large Scotland support by and large stayed in situ until full-time. Given the scene at that point, perhaps they only remained to make their anger perfectly plain. They did that alright. “The fans booing us off were completely right to do that,” said Andy Robertson, Scotland’s captain. Tuesday night in Armenia suddenly has a fresh dimension; one Clarke could well do without.

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